Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.
It’s easy to forget that Godzilla was originally meant to be, well, scary.
The hideous, ancient dinosaur that appears in 1954’s Godzilla is a figure out of nightmares, mankind’s atomic sins given scaly skin and unleashed to wreak havoc. That first film concludes with a scientist creating a new weapon even deadlier than the atom bomb to finally stop Godzilla, then committing suicide rather than let his creation be used again.
But very quickly thereafter, Toho Studios began crossing the big guy over with other monsters. In short order, Godzilla had grudge matches against King Kong and Mothra, and then team-up movies where Godzilla joined forces with the aforementioned Mothra, Rodan, and other beasties to take down bigger bads like King Ghidorah.
Most of these films were directed by Ishiro Honda, the same man responsible for the original, sober Godzilla.
By the late ’60s, there was a feeling that it might be time to let the King of All Monsters rest for a while. Ticket sales were down, and there was a sense that the studio had used up all their ideas.
So Destroy All Monsters was conceived as a blowout series finale to the world of Godzilla and all the other humongous denizens of Monster Island. The plot involves mankind’s utopic future, including keeping all the monsters safely and happily on Monster Island, being interrupted when a race of aliens known as the Kilaaks begin using mind control to make Godzilla and his monster ‘friends’ attack the cities of the worlds.
When mankind wrestles control back, the aliens unleash that asshole Ghidorah to wipe out Earth’s defenses.
Destroy All Monsters continued the downward trend of box office performance for the Godzilla franchise but is today regarded as one of the high points of the series. Despite this lackluster showing, the Godzilla series continued with annual entries until 1974’s Terror of Mechagodzilla. Terror brought an end to what is now known as the “Showa Era”. The series was put on ice for a decade, and then Godzilla returned in a movie titled, uh, The Return of Godzilla.
As we breathlessly await the arrival of Godzilla vs. Kong, we thought it would be a good idea to go back to one of the great original monster mashes, the film that cemented for the better part of the 20th century exactly who stood supreme as the king of the monsters.
Next Week’s Pick:
But there is a challenger for that title!
The Eighth Wonder of the World! The king of Skull Island! The Sultan of Sw- oh, wait, that’s someone else.
Join us next week as we admire 1933’s King Kong, available on HBO Max.
Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co anytime before midnight on Thursday!
There’s basically two kinds of Godzilla movies: the ones where the king of kaiju is a force of destruction turned back on the foolish humans foolish enough to be in his path, and the more kid-friendly monster rally flicks where Godzilla (and his friends) battle all manner of evil monsters, aliens, and other assorted giant menaces. Destroy All Monsters falls firmly in the latter category. And, taken on that level, it is a lot of fun. Thanks to the aliens’ monster mind control plot, we get a bit of classic kaiju city destruction featuring a who’s who of monsters from past Toho monsters (including some truly spectacular marionette work featuring the monster Manda), but the real draw is the third act climax where all of the monsters team up to take on Ghidorah the three headed monster. Beyond that, there isn’t much to it though. It’s not that the story and human elements of the film are bad (they are well acted, with several familiar faces from past Toho sci-fi movies), but the same basic idea was done better — albeit with fewer monsters — in the earlier film Invasion of Astro-Monster. That said Destroy All Monsters delivers exactly what it promises with plenty of kaiju action, and it’s especially poignant as a kind of curtain call for this era of Godzilla movies. Technically the series continued for another six or seven years (with lower budgets and increased use of stock footage), but this was the last entry in which director Ishiro Honda, composer Akira Ifukube, and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya would collaborate. It is neither the best nor my favorite Godzilla movie, but Destroy All Monsters is colorful, a little bit goofy, and overall pretty dang fun — perfect for a Saturday matinee. (@T_Lawson)
Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya are a duo that belong in the same breath as Lennon/McCartney or Kirby/Lee. (Unlike those other pairings, Honda and Tsuburaya never hated each other’s guts as far as I can tell.) Between Honda’s direction and Tsuburaya’s eye for special effects, they invented and refined Kaiju filmmaking as a genre. 1968’s Destroy All Monsters ending up as their last go at showing off what 15 years of that refinement can deliver before Tsuburaya’s passing in 1970. (Unless we count 1969’s All Monsters Attack, which I know most Godzilla fans would rather not.) Their work together infusing the pulp sci-fi nature of the later movies with the right kind of energy to keep it engaging. While the human side of the story in kaiju movies often get a bum rap, I found the one here was on the more effective side of the spectrum for this series. I could see this being an effective alien invasion film even if the monsters were replaced with less iconic ones. Though that lack of icons would probably draw less eyeballs to it.
Going through some of the Showa-era of the Godzilla movies this year has proven how much the folks working on Legendary’s Monsterverse appreciate and understand this series. 2019’s underrated King of the Monsters basically taking the skeleton of its plot from a combination of this film and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, just replacing the alien invaders with Charles Dance and his eco-terrorists. Godzilla as a franchise has been fantastically pulpy more often than it hasn’t and Destroy All Monsters makes a strong argument for why that works. (@WC_WIT)
The thing I love most about the Showa era of Godzilla films is the completely straight-faced absurdist sci-fi/fantasy imagination casually deployed. Honda was apparently frustrated that budget restrictions kept him from fleshing out this world, especially in this film, but I love how matter of fact every actor treats the presence of aliens, the threat of giant monsters, and even the matter of space travel. There’s a cheerful disregard for anything like traditional logic, but baked into an oddly coherent alternate reality. It’s nonsense, but it’s a kind of nonsense that makes sense, if you follow me.
Honda had long since proven himself the master of this sort of fare, and Destroy All Monsters finds him in his comfort zone of city destruction and monster mayhem. Destroy thankfully eschews much of the draggy human drama that often makes up the majority of these films before you get to the good stuff, so this one is free to just be a ton of goofy monster fun. (@TheTrueBrendanF)
I consider myself a Godzilla fan — I love the big guy and his pals. I’ve seen, and collected, most of their films from over the years, starting on VHS. Two Godzilla figures (“Millennium” and “Shin” models) are perched on a shelf behind me as I type this.
But if I’m being honest, I find many of the films to be a bit interminable or tiresome, often on account of the human side of the stories — nonsensical plots and laborious setups which blur increasingly the more of them you watch. Destroy All Monsters is a title that seems to say it all, but this rewatch confirms that it too gets a bit bogged down a bit by goofy plot machinery before finally delivering the promised battle royale.
But the kaiju stuff is glorious, serving up a bunch of monsters, including some of the lesser seen ones, in hijinks around the world and culminating in a big finale featuring that threat from space, King Ghidorah. I watched this with my kids and we cheered as the monsters battled and cackled at the destruction of the Arc de Triomphe. My kids even took a liking to Godzilla’s little turd Minira, ever so slightly redeeming the cute and unthreatening doofus in my eyes. All in all, a mostly satisfying experience. (@VforVashaw)
Next week’s pick: